"TheCelotajs" –

Latvia Jewish Holocaust

Nazi Army Invasion and Occupation of Liepaja
In Latvia the Holocaust started on the night of 23 June to 24 June 1941, when in Grobina, a town near Liepaja, Einsatzkommando 1a members killed six local Jews, including the town chemist, in the church graveyard. Once Liepaja itself fell on 29 June 1941, "the hunt for the Jews began with the first hours of occupation." Professor Ezergailis estimates that about 5,700 Jews of Liepaja and the surrounding district fell into German hands. 
               Maps of Rainis Park                  Map of the location of the Lighthouse       Map of the Škede Dunes along the Baltic Sea
Note: The Liepaja massacres were a series of mass executions, many in public or semi-public, in and near the city of Liepaja “German: Libau”, on the west coast of Latvia in 1941 after the Nazi occupation of Latvia. The main perpetrators were detachments of the Einsatzgruppen, the Sicherheitsdienst or SD, the Ordnungspolizei, or ORPO, and Latvian auxiliary police and militia forces. Wehrmacht and German naval forces participated in the shootings. In addition to Jews, the Nazis and their Latvian collaborators also killed Gypsies, communists, the mentally ill and so-called "hostages". In contrast to most other Holocaust murders in Latvia, the killings at Liepaja were done in open places. About 5,000 of the 5,700 Jews trapped in Liep?ja were shot, most of them in 1941. The killings occurred at a variety of places within and outside of the city, including Rainis Park in the city center, and areas near the harbor, the Olympic Stadium, and the lighthouse. The largest massacre, of 2731 Jews, and 23 communists, happened from the 15 December to the 17 December 1941, in the dunes near Škede, on an old Latvian army training ground. “More is known about the killing of the Jews of Liepaja than in any other city in Latvia except for Riga”.
On 29 June and 30 June 1941, there were random shootings of Jews in Liepaja by German soldiers. About 99 Jews were killed in these shootings. Shootings began almost immediately. For example, at 5:00 p.m. on 29 June, arriving German soldiers seized 7 Jews and 22 Latvians and shot them at a bomb crater in the middle of Ulicha Street. At 21:00hrs the same day German soldiers came to Hika street, where the assembled all the residents and asked if any were refugees from Germany. One man, Walter or “Victor” Hahn, a conductor who had fled Vienna in 1938, stepped forward and was immediately shot. “Another source says that Hahn was killed by a mob of Latvians fomented by Nazis”. The next day, 30 June, soldiers went to the City Hospital, arrested several Jewish physicians and patients, disregarded the protests of the Latvians on the hospital staff, and shot them. Among the victims was 10 year old Masha Blumenau.
On 29 June 1941, a detachment of Einsatzkommando 1a, “EK 1a” under SS-Obersturmbannführer Reichert entered Liepaja. One of the first people EK 1a killed, on 30 June, was the musician Aron Fränkel, who, not knowing that Einsatzkommando had set up headquarters at his place of employment, the Hotel St. Petersburg, showed up for work. He was identified as a Jew and immediately shot.
                  Map of Rainis Park
During the fighting, the Soviet forces had dug defensive trenches in Rainis Park “Raina parks” in the center of Liepaja. On 3 and 4 July 1941, in their first documented massacre in Liepaja, Reichert's EK 1a men, all Germans of the SD, rounded up Jews and marched them to these trenches in the park. Once at the trench, they were shot and the bodies pushed in. How many were killed during these shootings is not known. Estimates range from several dozen to 300. After the war, the Soviet Union investigatory commission concluded that 1,430 people were killed in the park shootings, which Professor Ezergailis characterizes as an exaggeration. One participant, Harry Fredrichson, later testified that in one massacre he participated in, 150 people were killed. 
                          Raina Park location of the 3rd and 4th of July 1941 Mass Murders                     
As a naval base, Liepaja came under the command of the German navy, the Kriegsmarine. Lieutenant commander “Korvettenkapitan” Stein was appointed as town commandant. On 1 July 1941, Stein ordered that ten hostages be shot for every act of sabotage, and further put civilians in the zone of targeting by declaring that Red Army soldiers were hiding among them in civilian attire. This was the first announcement in Latvia of a threat to shoot hostages. On 5 July 1941 Korvettenkapitan Brückner, who had taken over for Stein issued a set of anti-Jewish regulations. These were published in a local newspaper, Kurzemes Vards. Summarized these were as follows: 
             Anti-Jewish measures ordered by                               Latvian language version of Anti-Jewish 
             the German naval commander in Liepaja,                 measures ordered by the German naval 
             5 July 1941                                                                        commander
  • All Jews must wear the yellow star on the front and back of their clothing;
  • Shopping hours for Jews were restricted to 10:00hrs to 12:00hrs. Jews were only allowed out of their residences for these hours and from 15:00hrs to 17:00hrs;
  • Jews were barred from public events and transportation and were not to walk on the beach;
  • Jews were required to leave the sidewalk if they encountered a German in uniform;
  • Jewish shops were required to display the sign "A Jewish-owned business" in the window;
  • Jews were to surrender all radios, typewriters, uniforms, arms and means of transportation.
     Women's Prison – The site where Jews were held before being taken out to bemurdered  
On 3 or 4 July, Erhard Grauel, commander of a detachment of Einsatzkommando 2, entered the city with about 30 men, most of them from Police Battalion 9 of the Ordnungspolizei. Reichert was then engaged in the Rainis Park shootings, which he described to Grauel as a "special assignment." Reichert left the day after Grauel arrived. Grauel took over the Women's Prison and used it as a detention facility for the targets of the Nazi regime. Mostly they were Jews, but Communists and communist-sympathizers were also arrested. Rumors were spread that the Jews were responsible for the Communist atrocities during the Soviet regime in Liepaja. Latvian militia "self-defense men" carried out most if not all of the arrests. On 6 July 1941, Werner Hartman, a German war correspondent, saw the Women's Prison crammed so full of prisoners that there was no room for them to lie down.
The first shootings carried out by Grauel were of about 30 Jews and Communists, arrested on 5 July through 7 July and executed on 7 July 1941 as "hostages" pursuant to Korvettenkapitan Stein's decree of 1 July supposedly in retaliation for shots having been fired at German patrols in the Liepaja vicinity. Grauel had selected every fifth prisoner for execution, and Grauel's men shot them on the beach in the dunes near the lighthouse. The numbers killed in the hostage massacre were stated as 30 in Grauel's postwar trial, and estimated at 27 plus or minus 16 by Anders and Dubrovskis.
On or about 7 July 1941, Reichert returned to Liepaja, with a message from Stahlecker, commander of Einsatzgruppe A, which accused Grauel of not executing people fast enough. Grauel showed Reichert the list of people he had arrested. Reichert checked off a number of names on the list and demanded that they be shot immediately. Grauel ordered his assistant, one Neuman, to organize an execution. On July 8, 9, and 10, Grauel's men shot 100 men, almost entirely Jews, on each day. They were transported to the execution site from the Women's Prison in groups of 20.
According to Hartman's later testimony, on 8 July, he was present at the killing site from 11:00hrs to 17:00hrs and saw about 200 people killed. The procedure was for the Latvian "freedom fighters" as they were called by Hartman to drive the victims ten at a time into a long ditch that ended in a pit. There they would be aligned in a double row, and shot, generally by Germans, but possibly by Latvians. The area around the execution site was guarded by Germans and Latvians, who could be distinguished by their red-white-red armbands.
     Map of the location of the Lighthouse
The early executions, which happened at least every two weeks, if not more often, were on the beach to the south of the lighthouse. The initial execution squads were Germans, but were later replaced by a commando of Latvians.
            Liepaja Lighthouse          
Grauel later testified at his post-war trial that he had requested to be relieved from command because of the stress of the massacres of 8 July to 10 July. His request was granted by the Einsatzkommando 2 commander, Rudolf Batz, and by the end of October, Grauel returned to Germany to study jurisprudence. Professor Ezergailis noted however, that before returning to Germany, and despite his claim to have been shocked by the 8 July to 10 July massacres, Grauel went on from Liepaja to the nearby town of Ventspils, where he organized additional killings.
     Konrads Kalejs, a Company
     Commander in the Arajs Kommando
     Arajs Kommando
The Arajs Kommando “also: Sonderkommando Arajs”, led by SS-Sturmbannführer Viktors Arajs, was a unit of Latvian Auxiliary Police “German: Lettische Hilfspolizei” subordinated to the Nazi SD. It was one of the more well-known and notorious killing units during the Holocaust.
This group composed of Latvian men, made contact with the leader of Einsatzgruppe A, Walter Stahlecker, in early July 1941, immediately following the German capture of Riga. All of the Arajs Kommando members were volunteers, and free to leave at any time. Note: The only problem with this was those who did leave either ended up in a concentration camp or as a conscript in a Nazi Army line unit. 
The Arajs Kommando unit actively participated in a variety of Nazi atrocities, including the killing of Jews, Roma, and mental patients, as well as punitive actions and massacres of civilians along Latvia's eastern border with the Soviet Union. The Kommando killed around 26,000 Jews in total. Most notably, the unit took part in the mass execution of Jews from the Riga Ghetto, and several thousand Jews deported from Germany, at Rumbula on November 30 and 8 December 1941.
Some of Arajs's men also served as guards at the Salaspils Concentration Camp.
As can be seen in contemporary Nazi newsreels, part of a documentation campaign to create the image that the Holocaust in the Baltic’s was a local, and not Nazi-directed activity, the Arajs Kommando figured prominently in the burning of Riga's Great “Choral” Synagogue on 4 July 1941.
The unit numbered about 300-500 men during the period that it participated in the killing of the Latvian Jewish population, and reached up to 1,500 members at its peak at the height of its involvement in anti-partisan operations in 1942.
In the final phases of the war, the unit was disbanded and its personnel transferred to the Latvian Legion.
Viktors Arajs
Viktors Arajs “13 January 1910 – 13 January 1988” was a Latvian collaborator and Nazi SS officer, who took part in the Holocaust during the German occupation of Latvia and Belarus “then called White Russia or White Ruthenia” as the leader of the Arajs Kommando. The Arajs Kommando murdered about half of Latvia's Jews.
Viktors Bernhard Arajs was born in the town of Baldone, then part of the tsarist empire. His father was a Latvian blacksmith and his mother came from a wealthy family of Baltic Germans. Arajs attended Jelgava Gymnasium, which he left in 1930 for mandatory national defense service in the Latvian Army. In 1932, Arajs studied law at the University of Latvia in Riga, but never completed his degree. He was a member of the elite student fraternity "Lettonia", which may have helped him get a job with the Latvian police after he left the university. Arajs remained with the Latvian police until he was promoted to police lieutenant. During the Ulmanis dictatorship in Latvia 1934–1940, Arajs was a "low ranking provincial police officer" who, as a loyal administrator, dutifully "distanced himself officially from the Perkonkrusts".
Activities during World War II
The war between Germany and the Soviet Union began on 22 June 1941. Shortly afterwards, the Red Army abandoned Riga to the advancing Wehrmacht.
     Former abandoned Riga Police Precinct house
     located at Valdemara “Krišjana Valdemara” iela 19
     that was taken over by Viktors Arajs and his
     Security Group “Arajs Kommando” Unit in July 1941.
Arajs then took over an abandoned police precinct house at Valdemara “Krišjana Valdemara” iela 19. Arajs's future commanders, Franz Stahlecker and Robert Stieglitz, had with them a Latvian translator, Hans Dressler, whom Arajs had known in high school and in the Latvian army. Because of this friendship, Arajs met the Germans, got on their best side, and gained their trust. Arajs recruited the core of his troops from his student fraternity and Perkonkrusts. On 4 July 1941, the German leadership turned loose "Security Group Arajs", generally referred to as the Arajs Kommando “arajs means plowman in Latvian” or Special Commando “Sonderkommando” Arajs. On the same day, in the German forces Latvian newspaper Tevija “Latvian: Fatherland”, appeared a recruiting advertisement: "To all patriotic Latvians, Perkonkrusts members, Students, Officers, Militiamen, and Citizens, who are ready to actively take part in the cleansing of our country of undesirable elements" should enroll themselves at the office of the Security Group at Valdemara “Krišjana Valdemara” iela 19. On 4 July, Arajs and his henchmen trapped 500 Jews, who had not been able to take flight before the advancing Germans, in the Riga Synagogue on Gogola iela. There they were burnt alive while hand grenades were thrown through the windows. The Arajs commando consisted of 500–1500 volunteers. The unit murdered approximately 26,000 people, first in Latvia and then in Belarus. Arajs was promoted to police major in 1942, and in 1943 to SS-Sturmbannführer. Herberts Cukurs, the former Latvian pilot, was the adjutant to Arajs.
The First Arajs Action

    • 22 July 1941: "About 8,000 Jews with the present of SS personnel would take about 1 year, which is untenable for pacification of Libau" “Liepaja”.
    • 27 July 1941: "Jewish problem Libau “Liepaja” largely solved by execution of about 1,100 male Jews by Riga SS commando on 24 25 and 27 1941".
    • Hans Kawelmacher, Libau “Liepaja” Naval Commandant.

  • Grauel was replaced with SS-Untersturmführer Second Lieutenant Wolfgang Kügler on 10 or 11 July. Under Kügler's supervision, massacres occurred at a rate of about twice a week. Shootings of small groups of Jews continued after 10 July, happening every evening. These were organized by Kügler. Often these were of less than 10 individuals, which was a pattern particular to Kügler's administration in Liepaja. The exact number of those killed in these actions is not known, but was estimated by Anders and Dubrovskis to be 81 individuals plus or minus 27. Anders and Dubrovskis estimate the total number of victims to be 387 individuals, plus or minus 130.
    On 16 July 1941, Fregattenkapitän Dr. Hans Kawelmacher was appointed the German naval commandant in Liepaja. On 22 July, Kawelmacher sent a telegram to the German Navy's Baltic Command in Kiel, which stated that he wanted 100 SS and fifty Schutzpolizei "protective police" men sent to Liepaja for "quick implementation Jewish problem". By "quick implementation" Kawelmacher meant "accelerated killing." Mass arrests of Jewish men began immediately in Liepaja, and continued through 25 July 1941. The Arajs commando was brought in from Riga to carry out the shootings, which occurred on 24 July and 25 July. About 910 Jewish men were executed, plus or minus 90. Statements in other sources that 3,000 “Vesterman” and 3,500 “Soviet Extraordinary Commission” were killed are incorrect.
    This first Arajs action was later described by Georg Rosenstock, the commander of the second company of the 13th Police Reserve battalion. Rosenstock testified after the war that when he and his unit had arrived in Liepaja in July, 1941, they had heard from some passing marines that Jews were being continuously executed in the town, and these marines were going out to watch the executions. A few days later, on Saturday, 24 July 1941, Rosenstock saw Jews “whom he identified by the yellow stars on their clothing” crouching down in the back of a truck, being guarded by armed Latvians. Rosenstock, who was himself in a vehicle, followed the truck to the north of the city to the beach near the naval base, where he saw Kügler, some SD men, and a number of Jews.
         Map of the Škede Dunes along the Baltic Sea
    The Jews were crouching down on the ground. They had to walk in groups of about ten to the edge of a pit. Here they were shot by Latvian civilians. The execution area was visited by scores of German spectators from the Navy and the Reichsbahn “national railway”. I turned to Kügler and said in no uncertain terms that it was intolerable that shootings were being carried out in front of spectators.
    Škede Dunes largest site of Jewish and non-Jewish 1941 Nazi Mass Murders Jewish and Russian Memorials. 
    The killings continued in August after the first Arajs action, but on a lessened scale. From August 30 to 10 December 1941, there were a large number of shootings, in which about 600 Jews, 100 Communists, and 100 Gypsies were killed. Anders and Dubrovskis estimate the total victims through 15 August 1941 as 153. Schulz, a boatswain's mate “Oberbootsmaat” from the harbor surveillance command, testified that on a day August, 1941, he had heard continuous rifle salvoes all day coming from across the harbor from his position.
    Between 17:00hrs and 18:00hrs Schulz and another man rowed across the harbor to see what was happening. They followed the sounds of the shooting until they came to the old citadel. By standing on a bunker at the citadel they could see a long deep trench which was said to have been dug by the Jews the previous day. This was about one kilometer north of the lighthouse. They watched for about an hour or an hour and a half. During that time, three or four trucks arrived at the site, each carrying five Jews. They were forced to lie down in the truck. When the truck reached the site, the driver took the vehicle right up to the trench. Latvian guards, wielding clubs, forced the victims to enter directly into the trench. A squad of five men, possibly Latvians, but more probably German SD men, then shot them in the head. The supervising SS or SD officer then shot again any one not immediately killed.
    The Romani people “called "Gypsy" in English and Zigeuner in German” were also targets of the Nazi occupation. On 4 December 1941, Hinrich Lohse issued a decree which stated:
    Gypsies who wander about in the countryside represent a two-fold danger.
    1. As carriers of contagious diseases, especially typhus;
    1. As unreliable elements who neither obey the regulations issued by German authorities, nor are willing to do useful work.
    There exists well-founded suspicion that they provide intelligence to the enemy and thus damage the German cause. I therefore order that they are to be treated as Jews.
    Gypsies were also forbidden to live along the coast, which included Liepaja. On 5 December 1941, the Latvian police in Liepaja arrested 103 Gypsies “24 men, 31 women, and 48”. Of these people, the Latvian police turned over 100 to the custody of the German police chief Fritz Dietrich "for follow up" “zu weiteren Veranlassung”, a Nazi euphemism for murder. On 5 December 1941, all 100 were all killed near Frauenburg.
    By 18 May 1942 the German police and SS commander in Liepaja indicated in a log that over a previous unspecified period, 174 Gypsies had been killed by shooting. The German policy on Gypsies varied. In general, it seemed that wandering or "itinerate" Gypsies “vagabundierende Zigeuner” were targeted, as opposed to the non-wandering, or "sedentary" population. Thus, on 21 May 1942, the SS commander in Liepaja police and SS commander recorded the execution of 16 itinerate Gypsies from the Hasenputh district. The documentation however does not always distinguish between different Gypsy groups, thus on 24 April 1942 EK A reported having killed 1,272 people, including 71 Gypsies, with no further description. 
                  Nazi warning in “German”                           Nazi warning in “Latvian”
    Nazi police warning to the Jews of Liepaja to remain in their houses on the 15 and 16 December 1941.
    The largest of the Liepaja massacres took place on three days from Monday, 15 December to Wednesday, 17 December 1941. On 13 December, Kurzemes Vards published an order by Emil Diedrich, the Nazi police in Liepaja, which required all Jews in the city to remain in their residences on Monday, 15 December and Tuesday 16 December 1941. The order came from SD headquarters in Riga; whether it was received by Kügler or his deputy, Reichle, was disputed, with both Kügler and Reichle later claiming Kügler was on leave in Germany. The Latvian police began arresting the Jews in the city on the night of 13 and 14 December 1941 bringing them to the Women's Prison, where they were confined in the courtyard. There was not enough room for the people, so they were ordered to stand facing towards the wall, and not move, look for relatives, or look at the guards, who beat people and treated them with brutality. There was an old wooden building, a garage, barn, or horse barn, at the beach at Škede. Some of the Jews were taken to this building on the evening of Sunday, 14 December.
                  Map of the Škede Dunes along the Baltic Sea         
    Photographs of the Liepaja December shootings
         Members of the 21st Latvian Police Battalion
         assembling a group of Jewish women for execution
         on a beach near Liepaja 15 December 1941
         A group of Jewish women huddled together,
         waiting to be shot on the beach
         Women and children forced to undress prior to
         A Latvian guard leads Jewish women
         to the execution site
         Jewish women about to be shot by Nazis
         Another image, of same group, about to be shot
         Immediately following the shooting the man on
         the right is the "kicker", responsibly for shoving
         the bodies into the pit.
         Women forced to disrobe and then forced to pose.
    Peteris Galinš, where little is known other than that he was killed in Russia in the winter of 1943, was in charge of the Latvian guards, and he ordered a team of 20 to report for duty at 05:30hrs on 15 December.
    The execution site was on the beach, north of the city, and north of the small barn or garage, which was used as a temporary holding point for the victims while their turn came to be executed. A trench had been dug in the dunes that ran parallel to the shore and was about 100 meters long and 3 meters wide. Columns of Jews were formed at the Women's Prison and marched out under guard to the killing site. The guards were Latvians with Germans acting as supervisors.
    Once at the site, the Jews were housed in the barn and taken in groups of 20 of a time to a point 40 or 50 meters from the trench, where they were ordered to lie face down on the ground. Groups of ten were then ordered to stand up, and, except for children, remove their outer clothing. As they were moved closer to the pit, they were ordered to strip completely. A Latvian guard, Bulvans, later testified that he saw two Germans, SS-Scharführer "squad leader" Karl-Emil Strott and Philip or “Filip” Krapp, using a whip on people who did not move on to the pit.
    The actual shootings were done by three units, one of Germans, another of Latvian SD men, and another unit of the Latvia police, apparently the one commanded by Galinš. The victims were positioned along the edge of the sea side of the trench. They were faced away from their killers, who fired across the trench, with two gunman allocated to each victim. After the initial volley, a German SD man would step down into trench, inspect the bodies, and fire finishing shots into anyone left alive. The goal was to have the bodies fall into the trench, but this did not always happen. Accordingly, the executioners had a "kicker" come along after each group of victims. The kicker's job was to literally to kick, roll, or shove the bodies into the grave. Sergeant Jaugietis of the Latvia police worked as a kicker for at least part of the killings. Each execution team was relieved by another after killing 10 sets of victims.
    It was the practice of the persons commanding the executioners in Latvia to encourage drinking among at least the Latvian killing squads. During the Liepaja killings, a milk can of rum was set up at the killing pits. High-ranking Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine officers visited the site during the course of the executions.
    Lucan, an adjutant of the 707th Marine Antiaircraft Detachment, described seeing an execution of 300 to 500 Liepaja Jews in the winter. He saw a column of 300 to 500 Jews of all ages, men and women, being led under guard past his unit's headquarters’ north on the road to Ventspils. The trench was 50 to 75 meters long, 2 to 3 meters wide and about 3 meters deep. Lucan did not see the actual shooting, but he and other members of his unit heard rifle fire coming from the direction of the pit for a long time. Lucan inspected the site the next day:
    The following day I went with several members of our unit to the execution area on horseback. When we arrived at the said hills we could see the arms and legs of the executed Jews sticking out of the inadequately filled-in grave. After seeing this, we officers sent a written communication to our headquarters in Liepaja. As a result of our communication the dead Jews were covered properly with sand.
    After the shootings, on 3 January 1942, Kügler reported to Fritz Dietrich, then in command of the Riga Order Police German: “Ordnungspolizei” that the executions were well known to the local population and had not been well-received:
    Regret about the fate of the Jews is constantly expressed; there are few voices to be heard which are in favor of the elimination of the Jews. Among other things, a rumor is abroad that the execution was filmed in order to have material to use against the Latvian Schutzmannschaft. This material is said to prove that Latvians and not Germans carried out the executions.
    Many of the Liepaja executions were witnessed by persons other than the participants. Klee Dressen and Riess, in their study of the Holocaust perpetrators, concluded that in many ways the public executions were "in many ways a festival", that German soldiers traveled long distances to get the best places to witness the mass shootings, and that these public executions continued over a long period of time and became a form of "execution tourism. Nobody was forced to murder Jews, and there were people who refused to do so. Nothing bad happened to them and in particular no one who refused was ever sent to a concentration camp. At most, those who refused orders to kill were abused as "cowards" by their commanders. This pattern was followed in Liep?ja. For example, a boatman who worked under the harbormaster, Navy personnel and at least one hundred Wehrmacht soldiers were present at an execution, apparently pursuant to orders.
    Richard Wiener, who photographed the Einsatzgruppen killings, went to the July or August massacres to take photographs. He found German soldiers standing around the execution site, not as participants, but as spectators. Motion pictures were taken by Richard Wiener, on leave from his position as a German naval sergeant. The December shootings at Škede were photographed by SS-Scharführer Karl-Emil Strott. These became the best known images of the murders of Jews in Latvia, and they show only Latvians. The photographs were found by David Zivcon, who worked as an electrician at the SD office in Liepaja. He found four rolls of film when he was repairing wiring in a German's apartment. Zivcon stole the film, had prints made, and returned the originals before they were missed. He then placed the prints in a metal box and buried them. After the Germans were driven out of Latvia, Zivcon retrieved the prints, which were later used in war crimes trials and displayed in museums around the world. Professor Ezergailis also states that it was Kügler himself, who photographed the shootings,
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    Revised: 23 May 2012 – 06:50:24